On Tuesday, Republican party platform drafters agreed to include language calling for a foreign guest worker program that could provide more American businesses with a font of legal and willing employees.
Also included in the platform is a call to complete a border fence along the U.S.–Mexico line, an end of in-state tuition for undocumented students, a ban on policies that create sanctuary cites, and mandatory use of the e-verify database. Sanctuary cities are communities where police and other public officials are generally prohibited from inquiring about the immigration people's status unless absolutely necessary, while e-verify is a federal database used to verify workers' eligibility to hold a job in the United States.
The draft platform, which will not be finalized until the party’s delegates gather in Tampa, Fla., next week, represents a Republican attempt to balance the concerns of one section of the party with another. On one side sits often far-right immigration hardliners, such as Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach and others concerned about what they see as problems caused by the 11 to 12 million undocumented immigrants. On the other side are more moderate Republicans, such as Brad Bailey, a Texas city councilman, restaurant owner and driving force behind the guest worker proposal which he calls the "Texas immigration solution."
“In our party it has become a third rail political issue,” said Bailey. “The rhetoric around immigration has just grown so intense that people are plain afraid to talk about it. So I consider everything that happened today progress.”
However, immigrant advocates criticized the draft platform’s mixed bag of immigration-related ideas. The overwhelming majority of those ideas lean heavily toward a small but vocal wing of immigration hardliners. They also fail to address what will become of the millions of undocumented immigrants already living in the country, said Frank Sharry, executive director of America’s Voice, an immigration-focused think tank based in Washington, D.C. According to Sharry, a guest worker program would do little to mitigate concerns among immigration hardliners, as it would create a permanent, low-cost and easily exploitable revolving labor force for American companies.
“This, to me, just confirms that there are very few adults in their party,” Sharry said. “When it comes to immigration they are unwilling to beat back the loud but not large nativist wing."
"I’m glad that the spirited fella’ from Texas showed up and spoke up, but it would have been a lot more newsworthy if the Republicans would come to the realization that we are never going to be able to deport 11.5 million people,” he continued.
The measures that Kobach pushed into the draft platform were in the party’s final political plank in 2008, but had been removed from the draft this year, Politico reported Tuesday. During the final draft platform meeting, Kobach reportedly reminded delegates that Mitt Romney had endorsed the proposals during the primary and that his position helped him prevail over competitors, such as Texas Gov. Rick Perry. During a primary debate, Perry endorsed a 2001 Texas law granting in-state tuition eligibility to undocumented immigrants who attended high school in Texas.
Kobach, a politician with such a significant national profile that Gov. Mitt Romney described him as an advisor during the Republican primary, was given time to lobby for his amendments from behind a microphone at the Marriott Hotel where delegates gathered Tuesday to finalize a draft platform. Bailey, on the other hand, had to stop people in route to the bathroom, he said.
"I’m really just happy that the party is addressing the issue instead of running from it," Bailey said. "Just to be able to say that the party endorsed a guest worker program is a major, major victory. It’s recognizing that listening to business owners across the United States matters, as opposed to a few fringe groups."
Still, efforts were made Tuesday to restrict the guest worker provision to the agriculture industry, Bailey said. But the final draft platform calls for guest worker programs that could supply labor to a wide variety of industries, from agriculture and food service to construction and high-tech companies. Current guest worker programs are limited primarily to the agriculture sector and workers with higher-level skills needed in science, technology and the medical and arts industries.
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The Template: California Proposition 187 (1994)
California's Proposition 187 was submitted to the voters with the full support of then Republican governor Pete Wilson. It essentially blamed undocumented immigrants for the poor performance of the state economy in the early 1990s. The law called for cutting off benefits to undocumented immigrants: prohibiting their access to health care, public education, and other social services in California. It also required state authorities to report anyone who they suspected was undocumented. <strong>Status:</strong> The law passed with the support of 55 percent of the voters in 1994 but declared unconstitutional 1997. The law was killed in 1999 when a new governor, Democrat Gray Davis, refused to appeal a judicial decision that struck down most of the law. Even though short-lived, the legislation paved the way for harsher immigration laws to come. On the other hand, the strong reaction from the Hispanic community and immigration advocates propelled a drive for naturalization of legal residents and created as many as one million new voters.
The Worst: Arizona SB 1070
The Arizona Act made it a misdemeanor for an undocumented immigrant to be within the state lines of Arizona without legal documents allowing their presence in the U.S. The law was widely criticized as xenophobic and for encouraging racial profiling. It required state authorities to inquire about an individual's immigration status during an arrest when there was "reasonable suspicion" that the individual was undocumented. The law would allow police to detain anyone who they believed was in the country illegally. <strong>Status:</strong> The law was signed into law by Arizona Governor Jan Brewer on April 23, 2010, immediately generating a swirl of controversy and questions about its constitutionality. In July 2010 and February 2012, federal judges blocked different provisions of SB 1070, setting the stage for the <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/06/25/sb1070-ruling-supreme-court_n_1614119.html" target="_hplink">the Supreme Court decision of June 25, 2012</a> which struck down multiple provisions but upheld the controversial "papers please" provision, a centerpiece of the law which critics say will lead to racial profiling
Following Arizona's Footsteps: Georgia HB 87
The controversy over Arizona's immigration law was followed by heated debate over Georgia's own law. HB 87 required government agencies and private companies to check the immigration status of applicants. This law also limited some government benefits to people who could prove their legal status. <strong>Status:</strong> Although a federal judge temporarily blocked parts of the law considered too extreme, it went into effect on July 1st. 2011. House: 113-56 Senate: 39-17
Verifying Authorized Workers: Pennsylvania HB 1502
This bill, which was approved in 2010, bans contractors and subcontractors employ undocumented workers from having state construction contracts. The bill also protects employees who report construction sites that hire illegal workers. To ensure that contractors hire legal workers, the law requires employers to use the identification verification system E-verify, based on a compilation of legally issued Social Security numbers. <strong>Status:</strong> Approved on June 8th 2010. House: 188-6 (07/08/2010) <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/donkeyhotey/" target="_hplink">Flickr photo by DonkeyHotey</a>
A Spin Off of Arizona: Utah HB 497
Many states tried to emulate Arizona's SB 1070 law. However, most state legislatures voted against the proposals. Utah's legislature managed to approve an immigration law based on a different argument. Taking into consideration the criticism of racial profiling in Arizona, Utah required ID cards for "guest workers" and their families. In order to get such a card workers must pay a fee and have clean records. The fees go up to $2,500 for immigrants who entered the country illegally and $1,000 for immigrants who entered the country legally but were not complying with federal immigration law, <a href="http://articles.latimes.com/2011/mar/06/nation/la-na-illegal-immigration-20110306" target="_hplink">according to the LA Times.</a> <strong>Status: </strong> Law went into effect on 03/15/2011 House: 59-15 (03/04/2011) Senate: 22-5 (03/04/2011)
The Most Comprehensive: Florida HB-1C
Florida's immigration law prohibits any restrictions on the enforcement of federal immigration law. It makes it unlawful for undocumented immigrants within the state to apply for work or work as an independent contractor. It forbids employers from hiring immigrants if they are aware of their illegal status and requires work applicants to go through the E-verify system in order to check their Social Security number. <strong>Status: </strong>effective since October 1st, 2010
The Hot Seat: Alabama HB 56
The new immigration law in Alabama is considered the toughest in the land, even harder than Arizona's SB 1070. It prohibits law enforcement officers from releasing an arrested person before his or her immigration status is determined. It does not allow undocumented immigrants to receive any state benefit, and prohibits them from enrolling in public colleges, applying for work or soliciting work in a public space. The law also prohibits landlords from renting property to undocumented immigrants, and employers from hiring them. It requires residents to prove they are citizens before they become eligible to vote. The law asked every school in the state to submit an annual report with the number of presumed undocumented students, but this part, along with others, were suspended by federal courts. <strong>Status:</strong> Approved June 2nd, 2011 House: 73-28 (04/05/2011) Senate: 23-11 (05/05/2011) <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/longislandwins/" target="_hplink">Flickr photo by longislandwins</a>